Many people view meal planning as a huge, time-consuming task that just doesn’t fit into our hectic lives. But without planning, our meals can quickly become filled with poor quality food staples that don’t make us feel good or sustain our bodies. Luckily, simple meal prep can be done in literally one minute or less. You don’t always have to make a whole week’s worth of meals on Sunday (although it’s great if you can)!
While some people enjoy spending two to three hours on weekends prepping soups and casseroles to freeze for the week, it’s not the only way to prep. If you don’t see a long prep session fitting into your schedule, we’ve put together some tips for simple meal planning that can get done in just a few minutes throughout the week. This will make all the difference in getting healthy meals made each day.
One-Minute Meal Prep Ideas
Set Out Your Ingredients
The easiest thing you can do to prep for meals is to set out the ingredients you’ll need ahead of time. Even if you are rushing out the door in the morning, you have a few seconds to set all the non-perishable items out on the counter for your dinner. For example, you can put the spices, canned tomatoes, a bag of quinoa, and a skillet on the counter in the morning so that when you get home, everything you need for Quinoa Enchilada Casserole is all ready to go.
When you come home from a long day, seeing everything you need for a meal already laid out can make a world of difference in whether or not you actually get it made. Just that one step of setting out ingredients can overcome a huge hurdle at the end of the day. Since it’s already out, you might as well use it!
Make a Spice Mix
Another simple way to shorten meal prep is to mix frequently used spices together. For example, instead of individually measuring out the spices needed for Quinoa Enchilada Casserole, you can pre-measure them and then simply pour the contents of one jar into a pan with canned tomatoes to make the sauce. Kids love to measure and this is a great way to get them involved in the kitchen! Let them measure out portions of spices for pre-made mixtures, or mix a large batch of Enchilada Sauce Spices or Moroccan Sauce Spices to keep around.
You can pre-mix a variety of blends for simple cooking. Try a Mexican Blend or even your favorite Italian or Curry spices for quick seasoning.
Pre-cut veggies also shorten meal prep. You can buy them pre-cut or simply chop ahead of time. Maybe you don’t have time in the morning to chop all the vegetables you’ll need for dinner, but you can chop one onion or pepper in less than a minute. Then store it in the fridge until you get home.
You can also pre-chop one or two vegetables before bed for use in the morning. Store them together in the refrigerator, then when it comes time to put a meal together, you’ll just need to add a sauce and a protein to your veggies and you’re done!
Write Down Leftover Ideas
If you plan to cook protein, grain, beans, or casseroles, plan ahead for leftovers. Write down a few ways to use every recipe you cook. Then make a bit extra and use it in new ways throughout the week. When in doubt plan to make a Buddha Bowl using leftovers.
Five-Minute Meal Prep
Make a 5-Minute Sauce
If you have five minutes to spare, you can put together a complete sauce. Most of the sauces in Always Hungry? or Always Delicious take less than five minutes to make. Simply measure out the ingredients in a wide-mouth canning jar, blend with your immersion blender, and then store in the fridge until you’re ready to use it. If you’re already making one sauce, and you have the time, blend up two or three at once. Then your next few meals will come together even faster, since you already have the sauces made and waiting in the fridge.
Marinate or Pre-Assemble Something
You can also browse the grocery store to get an idea of which ready-made items might simplify your cooking, such as marinated chicken or fish, or pre-cut stir-fry vegetable mixes. Then make those items at home for less money and more control over ingredients. It will take you five minutes or less to chop an onion and pepper for a stir-fry mix that you can keep in the fridge. Then when you’re ready, add a few fresh pea pods and toss them all into a skillet with a sauce and some protein. That’s one meal done!
Ten-Minute Meal Prep
Cook a Batch of Protein
Even if you don’t have time on the weekends to fully prepare meals for the week, you can prep a batch of your go-to proteins on prep day or even while you’re cooking another meal. Then, just use the pre-cooked protein throughout the week. It will only take a few minutes to assemble a few pounds of chicken thighs or a pound of Crumbled Tempeh or Marinated Tofu to put into the oven while you have dinner.
Use the stovetop or slow cooker to cook some Shredded Chicken, Beef or Pork. Or, put some ground beef, turkey, or tofu on the stove to sauté while you are making another meal. Keep the flavors neutral, store them in the fridge, and then season them to go with whichever meal you choose throughout the week. We have more even ideas for this type of meal prep in our Simplified Meal Plans.
Cook Grains or Beans
Just like proteins and veggies, you can easily prep grains and beans ahead of time as well. Check out our simple DIY beans on pages 74 to 76 inAlways Delicious. All of these items can be kept in the fridge until you’re ready to assemble a quick meal. With all the components made ahead, putting meals together can happen in no time at all. You can turn pre-cooked beans into refried beans (Always Delicious page 225), a Buddha Bowl, Sheet Pan Meal, or a soup.
Use Waiting Time Effectively
Whenever you have a few minutes, prep a small item for a future meal. The best time to do this is when you’re already in the kitchen. For example, when you’re waiting for water to boil, chop up a few veggies, even if you don’t need them for that meal. You can store them to use in a day or two. When you marinate protein, make enough for multiple meals. Then you can just pull them out of the fridge on a different day, all ready to cook.
Think Ahead to Other Meals
Whenever you’re cooking, try not to just think about that meal. Maybe you can put together a quick soup while dinner is in the oven that you can use on a different day. Portioning leftovers into single-serve containers is a great way to prep lunches for work and school as well. Freezing single portions of your favorite meals to use in a pinch can save you on busy days when your schedule doesn’t go as planned.
What are your favorite meal prep ideas? Let us know in the comments!